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COLUMN

How to Bring Peaceful Coexistence Back to the Middle East

Aimee Smith

To quote William Blum, “If love is blind, patriotism has lost all five senses.” People with senseless devotion towards Israel are no more ready to take an honest look at that country’s past and present than those who allow their love for the U.S. to protect themselves from its genocidal past and present. A well-funded pro-Israel lobby, repression of Arab immigrants, and the climate of hate against all things Arab or Muslim means we in the U.S. receive a very skewed picture of the world, making it difficult for those of us who still like to make decisions and assessments based on facts.

Apartheid is a system that allows a minority identity group to dominate a majority group through various means, but most explicitly through disenfranchisement. In South Africa, this was carried out rather directly by barring indigenous blacks from voting. Thus, the minority group of white descendants from Europe created a mechanism for making decisions that attended to the interests of that minority. There were other aspects to the system that were degrading and humiliating to the indigenous Africans such as pass systems, “whites-only” areas, and repression against those who sought to transform the society into a more just one based on universal and equal human rights for all people living in South Africa.

Israel used a slightly different scheme to bring about the similar effects. Again, a mostly European minority dictates to the majority of indigenous people. Just as with apartheid-based South Africa, colonization would require that the large indigenous population be divided and conquered. Zionism traces its roots to the same unjust ideology that created Nazism -- that a state would be made up of members of an ethnically “pure” group rather than all living within a geographic region. The disturbing genocidal past of Europe with its pattern of Jewish exclusion and sometimes outright massacres of Jews promoted the rise of the Zionist idea of a state for Jews, and nothing accelerated the movement more than the rise of Nazism with its concomitant crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, the fact that some Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis and fascists (see, for example, Lenni Brenner's 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis) should come as no surprise -- these ideologies are linked at the conceptual level. As with the Crusades of centuries ago, Zionism is a case of the sickness of Europe's racism being inflicted on Palestine.

The Zionist project required dividing the local population and shifting the demographics by a combination of immigration of Jews from Europe and ethnic cleansing of the existing non-Jewish inhabitants, the Palestinians. The division project began in the last part of the nineteenth century through the reinvention of Hebrew to serve as the spoken language of Jews instead of Arabic, the language of the Palestinians. Zionists used Hebrew to drive a linguistic wedge between the Jewish and non-Jewish Palestinians. Before that time, Hebrew was reserved for prayer and religious study, much as Latin was for Catholics thirty years ago. In 1917, when Lord Balfour of Britain promised a homeland for Jews in Palestine, Jews were 8 percent of the population. One of the founders of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, argued that the relationship with colonial powers was mutual: “We should there form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism... [Europe] would have to guarantee our existence.”

By 1947, there were 620,000 Jews to 1.3 million non-Jewish Palestinians. The U.N. partition plan offered 54 percent of the fertile land for the Jewish state and the remaining 46 percent for the majority. Brutal Zionist paramilitaries expanded this more than generous offer to swallow up 78 percent of Palestine, driving out large numbers of inhabitants through fear and terror spread from massacres and atrocities such as those carried out in Deir Yassin. Various sources put the number of exiled Palestinians in this period between 650,000 and one million. Here begins the “refugee problem,” since those who were forced out or fled were not allowed to return -- a right guaranteed in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. In the meanwhile, the Zionist architects were satisfied to have a Jewish state with a non-Jewish Palestinian population below 20 percent -- a comfortable enough majority to allow for one person, one vote.

Israel is the only country where “nationality” is listed on every ID card. And make no mistake, membership in the preferred nation has its privileges. The “right of return,” while denied to those people who were actually removed from the land, is available to Jewish people from anywhere in the world -- even converts such as a group of Incas from South America that recently “returned.” The religion-based land use laws are described further in works such as Ralph Schoenman’s Hidden History of Zionism. “National lands” are to be sold, rented, leased or worked on by Jews only, and these lands make up 92 percent of Israel. The Israeli courts struck down these laws, but they have yet to be revised in any meaningful way. Non-Jews offered employment in violation of these laws are as vulnerable to exploitation as undocumented workers here in the U.S. Citizenship doesn’t get you much in Israel if you are not Jewish.

The climate for non-Jews with Israeli citizenship is the gentler side of the Israeli apartheid coin. The remaining occupation of lands seized in 1967 is the other side of that coin. Annexing these lands would require non-Jewish Palestinians in these areas to be given citizenship, ending the demographic Jewish majority within Israel. The military rule in these occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, includes systematic torture, targeted assassinations, and incarcerations that Schoenman and others have documented extensively.

Whatever crimes Zionist leaders carry out, certainly many people who emigrate to Israel do so for many reasons and base their decisions on skewed information. Nevertheless, it is a crime to benefit from this Israeli apartheid. The way to end this crime against humanity is to immediately dismantle Israel. It is past time for a new incarnation of Palestine, giving equal human rights to all indigenous and non-indigenous present in the region, allowing those who were exiled to return to their homes and lands, and allowing the long tradition of religious tolerance and coexistence that characterized Palestine before Zionism to be allowed to be practiced once again.

Aimee Smith PhD ’02 is an alum of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.